Rule of Three

Double Jump Kris MiiHappy Monday, everyone!

Video games, like movies and novels, love to employ tropes — for the characters, the settings, the plot and story — because they have proven time and again that they work well. The Rule of Three is another such trope that, when done well, can keep us spellbound when playing a game.

Double Jump | Rule of Three | Three | Video Games | Tropes

There’s a common trope in storytelling called the Rule of Three. Generally, three similar events happen in the plot with a few changes to a variable or two. The first two events usually drive up the tension while the third event gives a twist on the outcome. It’s a tried and true trope, and video games have plenty of instances of threes in them.

This Rule of Three is as old as the common trio of warrior, mage, and rogue in most RPGs. They work in tandem personifying the classic stats of defense, attack, and speed. Or, if you wanted to go a step further, as physical attacks, special attacks, and perhaps skill or evasiveness. It’s common for side quests to have three parts, with the final task being the most important, or for final bosses to be fought in three phases. In racing games, three laps is the usual length for the course, and games with branching story lines tend to have good, bad, and neutral endings.

Many RPGs tend to have three members of a party out in a battle at once, such as Kingdom Hearts with Sora, Goofy, and Donald, or Super Mario RPG, where Mario and two other members can battle at once. The Legend of Zelda has the Triforce with Courage, Wisdom, and Power, each based upon one of their patron goddesses and personified by the three main characters of most of the games. Even the Harry Potter mobile game uses this trope with your character’s personality being shaped by how strong your courage, knowledge, and empathy are based on your choices in classes and interactions with other characters. Even duels in the game are performed by choosing sneaky, defensive, or aggressive spells, another rule of three.

The Pokemon core games have had trios up until the fifth generation when they ended the trend and gave us Black 2 and White 2. On that note, it is the last three Pokemon generations are the ones where we did not get a third title (Nintendo, I’m still waiting for my Gray, Z, and Eclipse games!). The generations that did have three titles tended to have more in-depth story elements in the third titles as well — while Yellow had Pikachu as the starter Pokemon, Crystal, Emerald, and Platinum each starred the third Legendary in a deeper plot. Pokemon GO has the three teams in Valor, Instinct, and Mystic.

Three seems to be the magic number when it comes to video game aspects.

Have you noticed the Rule of Three in your favorite video game? Do you think this trope works well?

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2 thoughts on “Rule of Three

  1. At the backbone of 99.9% of fighting games are 3 actions your characters can perform: attack, block, throw. Attacks beat throws, throws beat blocking, and blocking beats attacks. At its most reductive level, and I don’t mean it negatively because it’s my favourite genre of game, it’s Rock Paper Scissors.

    Liked by 1 person

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